Use of Classical Art and Literature by Victorian Painters, 1860-1912

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This book explores the reception of the classical world in painting from the mid-Victorian period to the second decade of the twentieth century, by seeking: to identify and interpret the artists’ choices of ancient textual and archaeological source material; to investigate significant relationships between particular works and contemporary literature and society; and to situate Victorian classicism in the visual arts within the practices of Victorian painting and the classical tradition. The nineteenth century witnessed important developments and discoveries in classical scholarship and archaeology which, along with major shifts in general sensibility, inevitably affected both academic and popular perceptions of antiquity. Drawing on such perceptions, painters in Victorian Britain brought new approaches to the visualization of the ancient past. Today, popular notions of classical-subject painting envision escapist images of a dreamy and idyllic ancient world. The stereotype is not wholly without foundation, but it drastically misrepresents the sophistication of Victorian constructions of antiquity which, among much else, make clear distinctions between representations of Rome and Greece and are capable of a strikingly original, and often deeply ironic, use of themes, motifs and allusions. This reality illustrates that, although classicism impinged on Victorian culture in a way that is almost unimaginable today, many artists acquired an unexpectedly precise and sophisticated knowledge of ancient history, literature and archaeology.


“By subjecting Victorian depictions of classical themes to her detailed scrutiny of their Greek and Roman sources, literary as well as material, alongside her analysis of their particular resonances for Victorian readers and viewers, Dr. Barrow has provided an overview of her subject that illuminates vividly how much they reveal about the varied presences – sometimes moral, sometimes decadent, frequently veiled, invariably topical – that the classical past assumed in the Victorian present.” – (from the Preface) Dr. Michael Leversidge, Former Dean of Arts, University of Bristol

“... a lucid, original and penetrating account of Victorian classical-subject painting ... embodies a remarkable amount of primary research – the outcome of which is everywhere – from new identifications of objects depicted to intricate literary and cultural connections.” – Professor Michael Silk, King’s College London

“All I can say is that what is before me now is a magisterial treatment of the subject, not only in range and extent, but also in the thoughtful detail with which Dr. Barrow addresses individual topics and the very wide and diverse interdisciplinary theoretical scope from which she gazes at the bigger picture.” – Dr. Jas Elsner, Corpus Christi College, Oxford

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Introduction
2. Histories
3. Images
4. Myths
5. Texts
6. Epilogue

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